The Ivy League reigns on TV. “All American” spinoff, ‘Homecoming’, wants to make HBCUs ‘the A story’

Daniel Ezra and Samantha Logan in “All American: Homecoming,” which is set at the fictional Bringston University. (Bill Inoshita / The CW)

Market Fridays where students can shop from local Black vendors. Hump Wednesdays featuring popup concert performances. The long-awaited family reunion at homecoming. All are quintessential parts of life in the AUC — Atlanta University Center Consortium — home to four Historically Black Colleges & Universities.

Yet these experiences haven’t been televised as frequently as those of affluent white students: Reflecting the lack of diversity among Hollywood writers, protagonists in teen movies and TV shows tend to aspire to Yale University, not Spelman or Morehouse .

Enter “All American: Homecoming,” which joins the much smaller number of films and series — including “School Daze,” “Drumline,” “Stomp the Yard,” “A Different World” and most recently BET’s two-season drama “The Quad” — to choose HBCUs as their backdrop.

Premiering Monday on The CW, the pilot of “Homecoming,” a spinoff of the L.A.-set high school drama “All American,” stars Clark Atlanta University alumna Geffri Maya and “The Quad’s” Peyton Alex Smith, who briefly attended Florida A&M University, in a story set at the fictional Bringston University in Atlanta.

“This just felt like an organic opportunity where I can extend what we’re doing on ‘All American’ and explore a whole new different world of Blackness at an older, broader level,” said showrunner Nkechi Okoro Carroll. “Because now we’re not just talking about L.A. teens, we’re talking about the diaspora. It’s time that people understand we’re worthy of being the ‘A’ story, the HBCU experience is worthy of being the ‘A’ story.”

Maya plays Simone Hicks, a teen mother, young newlywed, and ambitious Beverly Hills High student with eyes on Princeton University. When Hicks heads to visit her Aunt Amara Patterson (Kelly Jenrette), a professor at Bringston, she gets a slice of college life.

Apart from a run-in with nationally ranked baseball hotshot Damon Sims (Smith) and a brewing tennis rivalry, Hicks falls in love with the school’s corridors, where Black cultural icons, activists and intellectuals walked before her.

While prominent HBCU alumni such as Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Vice President Kamala Harris have amplified the visibility of HBCUs in politics, current students and recent graduates still want to see more from TV — and see it done right.

Désirée Raymond, 24, who attended Spelman as an undergraduate and Hampton University for her master’s of medical science,, said the media didn’t expose her to HBCUs. Instead, her aunt encouraged her to apply to Spelman during senior week in high school.

“I didn’t know about any shows until I actually got to campus and all of my Spelman sisters were like, ‘Sis, you need to watch ‘A Different World,’ ‘Drumline,’” said Raymond. “When I got there, I want to say my soul lit up and I felt at home immediately. I’m grateful that The CW is making this show and having a star who actually went to the AUC or to an HBCU in general.”

Raymond also watched Freeform’s “grown-ish,” starring Yara Shahidi as a student at the fictional Cal U. A spinoff of ABC’s “black-ish,” it has often been called this generation’s “A Different World,” despite the fact that unlike the earlier series, it’s set at a predominantly white institution (PWI).

“I would say that most TV shows these days are putting Black characters in white settings,” Raymond said. “If [HBCUs are on TV], it’s mostly just a shirt, but they don’t actually say much about the school or what shaped the character to be the person they are today.”

She said that the lack of HBCU representation on television contributes to the perception that HBCUs are lesser while everyone is expected to know Yale and Harvard. Raymond believes that you can get a quality education, “if not 10 times better,” at a historically Black college or university.

“I think it’s really key for these children, especially Black children, to be able to romanticize HBCUs the way that we’re taught to romanticize the Ivy League,” Maya said. “We should be able to also say, ‘Oh, I wish I could go to [Florida A&M University], Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, Spelman. They all deserve to be celebrated.”

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SOURCE: Los Angeles Times – RUTH ETIESIT SAMUEL

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